Can a New Bill on Climate Legislation Get Things Back on Track and Counter Rising Attacks Against Science?


This story was written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Brad Johnson, Zaid Jilani, and Alex Seitz-Wald.

As global temperatures reach record highs, freak weather continues to leave destruction in its wake. Heatwaves bake Australia and Singapore. After the billion-dollar losses from the series of "Snowmageddon" storms depressed the U.S. economy, a new "meteorological bomb exploded" over New York and New England last week. Fueled by "very warm sea surface temperatures," the extreme storm Xynthia pushed record heat and killer winds through western Europe. Every ice front in southern Antarctica is retreating. Meanwhile, politicians in Washington attempting to craft climate and clean energy legislation are weathering a political storm. Industrial polluters fuel a relentless assault on the legitimacy of climate science and lobby to prevent the Obama administration from taking away lucrative subsidies. Right-wing pundits crow that public understanding of the scientific consensus on manmade global warming is declining. And the mainstream press reports on the propaganda campaigns to discredit scientists as a "climate-change debate," as if physical reality were something decided by the poll results. Meanwhile, China has unveiled its 10-year plan to boost renewable energy technology, gas prices are rising, and experts wonder if America is even still in the running in the clean-energy race.

THE WAR ON SCIENCE: As the Senate is mired by inaction, the Obama administration is proceeding to slowly phase in rules to limit carbon pollution, based on a long-delayed endangerment finding for greenhouse gases by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The scientific finding -- the eventual result of a petition in 2001 that led to a Supreme Court mandate in 2007 -- is now under attack by most Republican and some Democratic lawmakers, several Republican state attorneys general, and top industrial lobbying groups. Other than by rewriting the Clean Air Act -- the "Dirty Air Act" effort led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and several House members -- the only way to overturn an endangerment finding is to dispute the underlying science. So Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) claimed that global warming is based on "unreliable, unverifiable and doctored" science. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) accused the world's climate scientists of "data manipulation" and "suppression of dissent." The South Dakota legislature has ruled that climate science is "prejudiced" by "political and philosophical viewpoints," and public schools should teach the "debate." Calling global warming "the new religion to replace Communism," Utah state Republicans accused climate scientists of a "conspiracy" to "manipulate global temperature data," asking the EPA to "immediately halt its carbon dioxide reduction policies." This last-ditch attempt to block clean energy reform by accusing scientists of a global conspiracy to defraud oil companies would be risible if not for the effectiveness of this campaign to swiftboat science. However, as former Vice President Al Gore wrote in the New York Times this weekend, "We can't wish away climate change."

'THE GREEN ECONOMY IS COMING': Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has emerged as the unlikely green leader in the Senate, working with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) on comprehensive climate legislation. Graham's behind-the-scenes negotiations to craft a political compromise are perhaps less impressive than his strong language. Echoing Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Van Jones, in November Graham called for the United States to "lead the world rather than follow the world on carbon pollution" because "the green economy is coming." When conservative Democratic senators like Ben Nelson (NE) and Mary Landrieu (LA) proposed dropping efforts to limit carbon pollution and instead pass only an energy-subsidies bill, Graham lashed out, saying. "[I]f the approach is to try to pass some half-assed energy bill and say that is moving the ball down the road, forget it with me." Speaking with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman last week, Graham recognized that, by arguing that climate change is a hoax, Republicans "are putting at risk" the "party's future with younger people," who overwhelmingly accept the scientific consensus on climate change. Graham's clear message is matched by few others in Congress, though leaders like Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) have emerged to fight against the dependence on oil money, the "senseless debate," and "insider baseball crap" that have prevented the Senate from taking action.

KERRY-GRAHAM-LIEBERMAN: Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman intend to release their "plan that promotes domestic energy production while putting a first-ever price on greenhouse gas emissions" this week, E&E News reports. Their challenge is to craft a bill that meets scientific standards for pollution reduction and steers the economy away from dirty fuels and towards clean energy jobs -- while also having a shot at several Republican sponsors. Although the structure of the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman plan is not settled, information is emerging from the halls of Congress about the shape of their comprehensive plan, which will replace the vehicle originally favored by the Obama administration -- the Waxman-Markey plan, which passed the House of Representatives last June and was paired with the similar Kerry-Boxer plan in the Senate. "Cap and trade as we know it is dead, but the issue of cleaning up the air and energy independence should not die -- and you will never have energy independence without pricing carbon," Graham said. Unlike Waxman-Markey, which includes "all major industrial sources of greenhouse gases in one broad economywide cap-and-trade system," the Kerry triumvirate "will propose different types of limits for different sectors of the economy, beginning with electric utilities and then turning later to manufacturers such as chemical plants and pulp and paper mills." As proposed by major oil companies, "including Shell Oil Co., ConocoPhillips and BP America," oil refiners and producers would not be part of the emissions trading system, but "transportation fuels can expect a carbon tax" that would fund "transportation projects, reducing fuel consumption and lowering domestic reliance on foreign oil." Industrial polluters in the manufacturing sector would "face a series of greenhouse gas limits after power plants, but talks are still ongoing over when the phase-in begins and what specific industries fall into the suite of restrictions." According to Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, "the most important element" of the plan is whether it will achieve needed reductions in pollution to give us a chance at avoiding catastrophic global warming. "The method in the bill to achieve that goal -- whether it's cap and trade, cap and dividend, carbon tax, or a hybrid system -- is much less important as long as it can meet the goal while attracting 60 senators' votes," Weiss said.

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